Tour de France 2017 Stage 5

Tour de France 2017 Stage 5

by David Millar July 06, 2017

 Stage 5

Regards the bike race, there was an echappée royale that was shutdown by a day long chase from BMC on behalf of Richie Porte.  Fabio Aru won convincingly and Chris Froome ended up in yellow.  Apart that, rien a signaler.

The previous night we had stayed in what was very likely the best hotel we'll get all Tour.  It was in a large village called Ronchamp, I'd never heard of it, yet it had the appearance of having been a well to do place some time in the not so distant past.  Sadly it was obvious those days were gone, there were a lot of boarded up shops and derelict buildings, the ghosts of a past wealth lurked behind the broken shutters of the tired old town houses.  

We were staying in a house (La Maison d'Hôtes du Parc) that had somehow managed to hold its standing, two lovely gentlemen owned it, and in the morning after breakfast I got talking to one of the owners and complimented him on the beauty of their home.  He thanked me and said it was a lot of work to maintain but it was worth it as they were lucky enough to have a belle clientele thanks to the tourism Le Corbusier's Ronchamp Chapel generated.   

I asked him, "Le Corbusier?"  I had no idea Le Corbusier had built a chapel. "You don't know?  Here follow me, we can see it from the garden.  You know he stayed in this house when it was being built?" Uh, no, I didn't know that...  Sure enough, on the top of a nearby hill, was a glimpse of a white building, although it was hard to see exactly what it is was from where we were standing as it was so far away and the forest surrounding it obstructed the majority of its form.  I don't know why, but I became an excited little kid, I told Ned the new plan, that instead of riding straight to the finish we were going to ride to the top of a hill to see a Le Corbusier.  It was, even by our high standards of random, completely off the wall.

It was a bastard of a climb on the Bromptons, and when we got to the top we found it was closed, we stood there at the gate dripping with sweat, thinking that maybe we were out of luck, then a lady appeared and told us it would be open in 10mins.  So we sat down and waited patiently, soaking up the view and reading the numerous plaques and things that peppered the walls and ground around.  Since medieval times a chapel had existed in the same spot atop the colline, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it had always been called Notre Dame du Haut.  It had been built in 1955, the families of Ronchamp having clubbed together to find the money to rebuild their Chapel that had been destroyed during the second world war.  It is evidence of that now distant wealth that they chose one of the world's most famous architects to design it.  

It turned out that the gate at the normal entrance was broken, so Ned and I were escorted around to the main entrance where the intercom had to be used to contact one of the eleven nun's that live in the monastery.  It was all quite surreal.  Eventually, after a rather amusing conversation was held with "ma sœur" the gate came to life and slowly opened.  

It's safe to say we weren't prepared for what we saw, because we had no idea what to expect, which was no doubt the best way to see it for the first time. 

Le Corbusier was a Swiss French architect, designer, painter, writer, and urban planner, he was one of the pioneers of modern architecture.  He was once quoted as saying he used two things when building, concrete and light.  No where is this more evident than at Notre Dame du Haut.  Ned and I wandered around it awe struck, we had the whole place to ourselves.

The inside is as striking as the outside, yet incredibly serene, I couldn't put my finger on it but there was definitely a presence about the place, at one point I said out loud to Ned, "This is amazing."  I expected him to reply as it echoed around the walls, but he was sitting in a pew at the front lost in thought.  

We barely spoke while there, but on leaving, I said, "Well that's up there with the best ever Tour de France experiences."  Ned replied, "Straight in at number one I'd say."  I couldn't agree more.




David Millar
David Millar

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